Born to Run (2016)

BOOK THREE

LIVING PROOF

FIFTY-SIX

LA BURNING

In 1992 the Los Angeles riots were sparked by the acquittal of four Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the vicious beating of motorist Rodney King after a high-speed police chase. Widespread arson, looting and assault fanned out across the LA basin. The broadcast of a home movie videotape of the assault welcomed the LAPD into the information age and set Los Angeles on fire.

As I rehearsed with my new band in an East Hollywood studio, someone came running in and shouted there was “trouble” in the streets. Two blocks from where we were working, he’d just barely escaped assault. We turned on the TV, realized we were uncomfortably close to the center of the disturbance and decided to call it for the day. I hopped in my Ford Explorer and headed west. Sunset Boulevard was jammed, with “panic in year zero” dread coursing through the veins of fleeing motorists, all trying to get out of the center and eastern parts of town. I had to get to Benedict Canyon and then on to the coast, where we’d rented a cottage that seemed safely removed from the events of the day. I’d ridden many of LA’s back roads, so I literally headed for the hills, threading my way along the curves of Mulholland Drive. I stopped for a moment near the Hollywood Bowl, where my windshield was filled with city-wide fury. It was a fiery, smoking panorama from a bad Hollywood disaster picture. Large smoldering black clouds rose from fires all across the LA grid to mix with chiseled azure skies like billowing ink on blue tile. I moved on to Benedict Canyon, where I picked up Patti and the kids.

Unlike the Watts riots of 1965, the fire this time looked as if it might spread out beyond the ghetto of those afflicted. Fear, and plenty of it, was in the air. The lapping waves of California’s surf paradise, the well-entrenched, well-paid-for silence of Trancas, Malibu and Broad Beach, was broken by the thukka-thukka-thukka rotors of National Guard helicopters running low above the sea. Beach deck TV screens were filled with the flames of boredom, despair and protest, just a few perhaps-not-so-well-guarded miles east.

Fifty-three citizens died, thousands were injured, businesses were destroyed, lives were ruined.

This is America. The prescriptions for many of our ills are in hand—child day care, jobs, education, health care—but it would take a societal effort on the scale of the Marshall Plan to break the generations-long chain of institutionalized destruction our social policies have wreaked. If we can spend trillions on Iraq and Afghanistan in nation building, if we can bail out Wall Street with billions of taxpayer dollars, why not here? Why not now?